Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas all too chummy ahead of The Match

Hopefully, The Match itself is better than the pre-tournament press conference.

Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy are set to take on Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas on Saturday evening under the lights at Pelican Golf Club in Belleair, Florida. On Wednesday, a Zoom call with all four players failed to create the hype often associated with a boxing match; this was more of a meeting of a mutual admiration society — with a few subtle digs.

“If you told myself and JT in 2012 when we were in college that we’d be playing against these two in a match, that would be a really, really cool thing,” Spieth said. “We want to win it because of how much these guys inspired us.”

If you wanted trash talk and bulletin-board material ahead of the 12-hole match, it was sorely lacking from this gabfest. When asked to name the best trash talker of the bunch, McIlroy jumped in and said, “I know who thinks he is the best trash talker, JT.”

That may be the case, but Thomas has done battle with Tiger enough to know that he and Spieth are at a significant disadvantage against Woods and McIlroy in terms of on-course achievements.

“It’s kind of hard to trash talk them,” Thomas said. “I feel like on the first tee Jordan and I just need to get it out in the open that, OK, you guys have more majors than us, you have more FedEx Cups than us, you both have an airplane and we don’t, let’s just get that out in the open that way we don’t get it used against us in our match.”

“They’re both quick and witty,” Spieth added. “I was saying to Justin that we might have to take the nice guy route, which isn’t normal for us in these type of matches.”

“Either way, it won’t work,” Woods piped in.

Tiger expressed confidence that despite suffering from plantar fasciitis, which forced him to withdraw from last week’s Hero World Challenge, he’ll be ready to go on Saturday thanks to having a golf cart at his disposal.

“It will help a lot. I can hit golf balls, it’s just hard getting from Point A to Point B,” said Woods, who is making his third appearance in The Match in what will be the seventh edition of the charity event.

While Thomas and Spieth have been a dynamic duo for Team USA in Ryder and Presidents Cups, McIlroy said he and Woods have never been partners, not even when practicing at home in Florida.

“I’ve been on the wrong side of them in the Ryder Cup before I’m trying to get one back on them,” McIlroy said. “I couldn’t ask for a better partner. The partner I had against them previously doesn’t quite compare to the one I’ll have on Saturday night.”

“I think we’re the underdogs, that’s the mentality we’re going to take,” Spieth said.

That’s when McIlroy interrupted. “I thought I saw the betting line, I thought I saw you’re the favorites,” he said.

“Oh, yeah, sharks know what they’re doing, I guess,” Thomas added.

Justin Thomas of the United States Team and Jordan Spieth of the United States Team talk on the range prior to the 2022 Presidents Cup at Quail Hollow Country Club on September 19, 2022, in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Fortunately, Charles Barkley returns to the broadcast to add some spice and keep the players on their toes — and hopefully draw out some good barbs between a foursome of competitors that are just a bit too chummy. Tiger noted that in previous years Barkley has had a tendency to speak directly into their earpieces while a player is mid-swing.

“Charles was saying something probably very inappropriate for most of the viewers but it’s going directly into our ear and we can’t respond to him,” Tiger said. “The chatter is good but it’s not quite the chatter we’d normally have amongst ourselves. In this day and age, there are certain words you can’t use. As most of these guys know, my vocabulary is very limited in that regard. Certain words are verbs, nouns and adjectives … and I use the same words for all of them.”

Perhaps the funniest moment of the press conference happened after Tiger buttered up his partner, and said, “He’s going to have the best cheerleader he’s ever had.”

“Maybe not the prettiest,” McIlroy said.

Tiger took offense. “Hey, you’re on my team, dude!” he said.

More cheap shots – and great golf shots – on Saturday night, please.